KAMAL, also written as kaṅval in Punjabi, is a flower, lotus, bearing the richest symbolic and philosophical significance in Indian lore.
Its use in Indian romantic and spiritual literature goes back to ancient times. It carries, in Sanskrit, a multiplicity of names such as saroj, jalaj, vārij, nīraj (grown in water), paṅkaj (grown in mud), padma, aravind, puṇḍrīk, and śrīnivās (abode of Lakshamī, the goddess of wealth). This flower grows in muddy water and yet it keeps itself untouched by it : thus it serves as a symbol of purity amidst impurity. In its usage in the religious literature it generally stands for the self emancipated from contamination of allurements and temptations of the mundane existence. In this sense, it is used in the Bhagavadgītā (V. 10) and at numerous places in the Sikh canon. In the latter, it has been coupled with the duck which holds its wings dry while swimming on water. In the mythology and spiritual history of India, it figures in the legend of Viṣṇu from whose naval sprang the lotus that contained Brahmā, thus giving Viṣṇu the attributive name of Padmanābha, i.e. one who has lotus in his navel. Viṣṇu is also called Padmapāṇī (having lotus-like hands) but this latter attributive name is used for Brahmā and Buddha as well. Lakshmī, Viṣṇu's consort, is called Kamalā or Padmā (one with a lotus in hand) and Kamalālaya because, according to one Hindu legend, she appeared at creation floating over water on the expanded petals of a lotus.
Brahmā is called Padmālaya because he was seated on the lotus that came from Viṣṇu's navel. Like Brahmā, Buddha is also delineated in figures as seated on a lotus.
Padma-rekhā (the lotus line) is believed to be a lotus shaped figure of lines on the right hand or foot of a great man betokening eminence. Such a figure is said to have adorned a foot of Kṛṣṇa. Gurū Amar Dās, the third spiritual preceptor of the Sikh faith, is also said to have had such a sign on his foot.
Kamal also symbolizes the beauty of various organs of the body, so that we have such substantives as kamal-nayan, aravind-lochan (lotus eyed), mukhārvind (the lotus mouth), charna-kamal, charanārvind (lotus feet), hast-kamal (lotus hand), etc. Apart from Hinduism and Buddhism, in Jainism too the lotus has been employed as a sacred, auspicious symbol standing for purity and spirituality.
In the Indian spiritual tradition, a particular posture in meditation, commended also in Sikhism, is called padmāsan (the lotus-posture), i.e. sitting cross-legged with the body slightly inclined forward in a meditative mood. In the mysticism of haṭh yoga, the six nerve centres sought to be penetrated by the aroused kuṇḍalinī are also called padmas (lotuses).
The typical representation of lotus in Indian art is somewhat stylized in the form of a standing cup, symbolizing the mind receptive to the elixir of illumination (gyān, jñāna) , as against the mind not receptive to that elixir which has been likened to a cup turned upside down --- in the direction of māyā, i.e. illusion or ignorance.
In Sikh sacred literature its symbolic use is of frequent occurrence. So ubiquitous is this use of the lotus symbol in this context that by a long-established convention the metaphor has come to signify the object symbolized, without overtly instituting a comparison or giving it the form of a simile or a metaphor. Says Gurū Nānak, "When by the Master's Word is the lotus opened its wanderings and desires cease" (GG, 224). The lotus here stands for the mind. Similarly, Gurū Amar Dās also affirms that "When by the Lord's Word the lotus is illumined, the egoistic, foul thinking is cast out (GG, 1334).
The symbol of lotus has also been employed to represent gurmukhs, untouched by worldly impurities. Gurū Nānak says "God's devotees, beloved of Him, remain uncontaminated even as a lotus in a pool remains untouched with water" (GG, 353). Similarly, Gurū Rām Dās says : "The devotee, even though a householder, remains ever detached, just as lotus in water" (GG, 1070). At some places, the human body, because of its beauty and tenderness, has also been compared to the lotus flower. Gurū Amar Dās says : "The lotus of the body must one day wither away" (GG, 1051).
The lotus at places has also been employed to symbolize the mankind in general. There it comes in association with the symbol of swan that is used for the pure and the liberated among the mankind. Gurū Nānak says : "One is the lake, on which are found lotuses of unique beauty, ever blossoming, in fragrance. There swans pick up the orient pearls, sharing in the supreme bliss of the Lord' (GG, 352). The lake here symbolizes the supreme Self, the lotuses, the creatures of the universe, and the swans, the liberated souls. At another place, all these symbols represent, in unison, the supreme Self (lake), mankind (the lotus) and the liberated (swan), signifying the essential oneness of all. Gurū Nānak, invoking the supreme Self, says : "Thou art the lake and the swan, the lotus and the lotus-buds, and Thou beholdest in joy Thy own beauty" (GG, 23). The devout attachment of the self to the Lord has been symbolized in the gurbāṇī as the attachment of the humming bee (bhaṅvar) to the lotus (GG, 496). Bhāī Gurdās in his Vārāṅ, XXIV. 23, paying homage to Gurū Arjan's sacrifice, compares the Gurū in bliss of absorption with Lord to the humming bee lying at night inside the shelter of the closed lotus flower. The honey of the lotus flower has also been used symbolically to express the sweetness of the bliss of the mystic union of the self with the supreme Self. At the close of the Āratī, it is said, "My heart yearns for the sweet honey of Thy lotus feet fragrant in unquenchable thirst. Bestow on the chātrik, Nānak, the water of Thy bounty and grant him endless abode in Thy Name" (GG, 663).
The lotus thus symbolizes, in Indian religious poetry, the pure and the unsullied self, the liberated self, the mind receptive to illumination of knowledge, a right minded householder uncontaminated by worldly impurities and devoted to, and blissfully united with the supreme Spirit. This is the theme it illustrates in gurbāṇī.
Gurbachan Siṅgh Tālib